As time runs out on the lease for the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market building, its current tenant and vendors are concerned and frustrated with city council.
The building’s current lease and operating agreement expires in May 2019. At this Monday’s city council meeting, administration will be recommending city council approves a request for proposal so the city can seek a tenant who will develop a six-day-a-week public and farmers’ market in the space.
“I’m very surprised at what they’re pushing — potentially pushing — for it to become a public market or to install a public market in this building,” said Adi Ramachandran, president of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market Co-operative.
“It’s an idea from the previous century. It does not help food security or any of the 21st-century issues like climate change because we have a very low carbon footprint and a public market has a high carbon footprint.”
Vendors are especially alarmed, as uncertainty about the future of the space has left them wondering how to plan for next year and whether or not the market will take place in the same location, Ramachandran added.
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Currently, the Farmers’ Market is open three days a week, and vendors who spoke to Global News say they would not be able to manage more than that.
“As a farmer, that’s kind of a one-man show right now,” said Green Cycle City Farm owner Haley Kretzer.
“I’m not able to be here six days a week. I know a lot of people aren’t able to be here six days a week and also run their business and do all of the behind-the-scenes stuff so it would be really devastating, I think, for Saskatoon as a community but also the farming community.”
Red Barn Dairy owner Hal Jadeske agreed, saying it would be impossible to keep up with the demands of a six-day market.
“As a farmer, when I come here on Saturdays I get up at 4 a.m. and I’m up until midnight. I have a 20-hour day to come on one day, never mind six days,” Jadeske said.
“I would either have to hire somebody to work here, which sort of takes away from the farmers’ market part of it, or else hire somebody to do the work on the farm. It’s just not feasible for me to do that; I just don’t have enough income to make it work,” he added.
Another fear is losing the identity of the market.
“We bring 7,000 people down here on an average Saturday in the summer. It’s a major tourist attraction,” Ramachandran said.
“Why are we a tourist attraction and not Safeway or Sobeys or Superstore? What do we offer that grocery stores don’t offer? It’s because we are an authentic farmers’ market. If we lose that edge, we lose all competitiveness and we’re just another random strip mall.”
Kretzer added the concept of a farmers’ market means each vendor is not only selling their products but is responsible for growing or making them.
“Public market allows for anyone, any kind of vendor, any kind of producer to come into the market, whereas (at) a farmers’ market, you have to make it, you have to bake it, you have to grow it. You get to know your farmer, you get to know your baker,” she said.
The co-operative launched a survey over the weekend to get a better idea of what customers want.
“It will help us plan our strategy going forward,” Ramachandran said.
“The big question to decide at this point is do we want to stay in this location and attempt to sustain a six-day market, which could possibly mean a public market, or do we want to move and continue to be an authentic farmers’ market in a place that allows us to continue fulfilling our mandate.”
“The information we have gotten so far is pointing more towards the fact that customers want an authentic farmers’ market,” Ramachandran added.
The co-operative is planning present the results of their survey and voice their concerns during the city council meeting.